SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Barry Bonds hit the 756th home run of his career to set a new Major League record on Tuesday, sparking wild celebrations among his hometown fans and mixed reaction elsewhere because of past steroid allegations.
In belting his landmark homer against the Washington Nationals, the 43-year-old San Francisco Giants slugger eclipsed the mark set by Hank Aaron in 1974.
Bonds, in his 22nd Major League season, completed the feat off Nationals starting pitcher Mike Bacsik in the fifth inning to put the Giants 5-4 ahead in a game they would go on to lose 8-6.
In a recorded message broadcast on the stadium’s video board, Aaron paid tribute to Bonds.
“Throughout the past century the home run has held a special place in baseball and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years,” he said.
“I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historic achievement.”
The lucky fan who caught the home run ball was identified by the Giants as 22-year-old New Yorker Matt Murphy, who was not available for comment but other fans described the scrum in the stands for the valuable keepsake.
“It was a mess, bodies on top of bodies, four layers deep for five minutes,” said 52-year-old Mark Peel, who witnessed the mass scramble for the ball.
“I didn’t think anyone was going to come up.”
Bonds said he does not want the ball back.
“He caught it, it’s his.”
Instead, the slugger has his eyes on a World Series championship ring, a prize that has eluded the seven-time Most Valuable Player.
“I haven’t quit yet so that ring is still coming,” he said.
Bacsik became the 446th different pitcher to surrender a homer to Bonds and the slugger’s 435-foot, right center-field shot to the deepest part of AT&T Park was his 22nd home run of the 2007 season.
“He’s the greatest of all time,” Bacsik told reporters. “Giving it up to Barry Bonds is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Earlier, Bonds had doubled to deep right center-field in the second inning and scored the game’s first run on a single by Benjie Molina. In the third, Bonds singled and scored on a home run by Molina.
After bashing his way into sporting history and crossing home plate to a greeting by baseball legend and godfather Willie Mays, the game was delayed for 10 minutes to celebrate the achievement.
Giants fans were ecstatic, chanting “Barry, Barry” as camera flashes filled the stands of San Francisco’s AT&T Park as fireworks exploded in the night sky.
The accomplishment, however, is not without controversy.
While a hero in San Francisco, Bonds is often jeered in other ballparks because many baseball fans suspect he may not have spoken truthfully when denying steroid use.
”This record is not tainted at all -- at all. Period,“ Bonds told reporters. ”You guys can say whatever you want.
Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who was not at the game, congratulated Bonds by telephone.
“While the issues which have swirled around this record will continue to work themselves toward resolution, today is a day for congratulations on a truly remarkable achievement,” Selig said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Adam Tanner